Did Conan Fudge His Facts?

by | May 4, 2010 at 2:11 PM | TV News

Conan O'Brien spoke to 60 Minutes.  (CBS)

Conan O'Brien spoke to 60 Minutes. (CBS)


Last Sunday’s Conan O’Brien interview on ‘60 Minutes,’ the first time the comic has spoken since vacating his seat on the ‘Tonight Show’ last January, gave the CBS news magazine show a slight ratings boost and provided O’Brien the excuse to go on Twitter. (“Hey kids, check me out on ’60 Minutes’ tonight. Watch for the part of the interview where I start crying and admit to mail fraud,” he tweeted.) In the sobriety of a Tuesday, what’s the reaction to the big interview?

Here, around the the office, the talk was that O’Brien came off as too sad, too grim, though he acknowledged keeping the proper perspective – at least he said he had as much, which seemed like a way of telling people, hey, I walked away with $32 million, a new show, so it’s not all bad.

Indeed, he emphasized that he’s OK. He said it repeatedly, “I’m OK.”

So OK.

Interviewer Steve Kroft was a disappointment. He skimmed the surface, asked the obvious, didn’t probe, he missed opportunities to ask Conan and his wife to illustrate the toll the tumult took on him, and he didn’t follow up when Conan talked about the reality of cable. It is, in fact, true that younger TV viewers, those in their late teens and early 20s – the Zoomers, the generation who do everything instantly and at once – find the shows they want regardless of where on the guide they’re located. They don’t have the same affinity to three or four networks. Conan made a good point. But Kroft could have asked what he watches on cable, what they watch in bed, and who holds the remote.

As with the rest of the interview, he could have done more. Like check his facts.

.

According to TMZ, sources at NBC tell them that “Conan was flat out wrong when he said NBC gave him the axe rather than Leno because Jay’s buyout would have been bigger,” the website reported. “Sources say the buyouts for Conan and Jay were roughly the same. TMZ broke the story Conan took home $32.5 million from his severance package with NBC.”

So did Conan fudge his facts? A source close to the situation told Fancast that “the original discussions never brought up buyouts. NBC actually wanted to make the more expensive decision and keep all three, Jay, Conan and Jimmy Fallon. It was only after Conan quit that a buyout was brought up – and it was Conan who made that decision, not GE.” TMZ also reported that their sources said Conan erred when he said it was “not possible” that his ‘Tonight Show’ was losing money.

Who was right? Who was wrong?

“You don’t have to believe one or the other,” wrote David Zurawik in the Batlimore Sun. “The producers of “60 Minutes,” if they would have been doing their job, would have contacted NBC and Leno and the newmagazine’s own considerable list of industry sources to try and ascertain the truth of O’Brien’s claim. I saw none of that in the interview. Kroft and “60 minutes” simply let the statement go out to millions of viewers apparfently unchecked. The producers and Kroft did the same with O’Brien claiming NBC had lied when it said the network was losing money with him in latenight.”

“All they had to do was check with their own CBS station managers to find out how O’Brien was losing money for NBC affiliates and owned stations — while the CBS stations in some cases were making that money. That was the story in Baltimore, and it was well reported here.”

At this point, the story seems pretty well played out. They’re like two second graders who wanted the same desk, and it’s time to move on.

Conan has had his say, NBC is behind Leno, and it’s time to move on. One of Fancast’s users summed up the situation best, writing, “It made for some of the best late-night viewing I’ve seen in a long time. I wish Conan and Jay the best of luck. I don’t see either as ‘the bad guy.’ The bad guys are the bean-counters who inhibit creativity in favor of numbers.”